One day of our holiday, after an abominable morning of tears and tantrums (most of them LittleBear's) over everything ranging from me using the wrong voice for animating a triceratops to me making stegosaurus say the wrong thing about the meteorite via me making the ash cloud fall on the dinosaurs all wrong, we went out for lunch.
This might not have been a brilliant idea, given the aforementioned state of near permanent meltdown about everything UselessMummy did wrong (and we won't even mention BigBear's alleged inadequacies as a tooth brushing supervisor...) BUT, as it turned out, it was a perfect opportunity for a bucketful of temporary smugness.
We've done this before, so we'd checked the menu in advance for the presence of one of the three things LittleBear might deign to eat, we'd packed the sticker book, we'd got the dinosaurs, the nanoo (and a spare). We were sorted. And LittleBear behaved beautifully. He sat, in a chair, at the table, before, during and after his meal. He chatted, he stuck stickers, he ate his lunch. He even went to the loo with only half-hearted cavilling.
"What's the big deal?" I hear those of you with no children ask.
Well... at the next table was a masterclass in how else it can pan out. Picture, if you will, the most stereotypically Sloane couple you can. He wore red trousers. She had a Hermes handbag. And they both had the unmistakable drawl of a Sloane. Their children were Arabella and Georgia. How do I know? Because for the entire meal we were accompanied by a non stop recitation of the following:
Bella no dear, don't climb that
Georgie, stop it
Georgie, come back
Bella come here
Georgie sit down
Bella sit here
Arabella, don't let Georgie do that
Georgie don't do that
Arabella, come down from there
Georgia, that's not safe
Georgie put that down
Georgie don't climb
Bella stand up
And neither parent moved a muscle. Or actually attempted to stop their children climbing onto, over, under and through everything. And neither child paid the tiniest bit of attention to what their parents told them. Neither child sat still to eat. Neither child even stayed at the table while eating. Neither child had anything to play with (they were ~4 and ~1 I'd guess). Neither parent tried to talk to the children (other than the litany of what not to do).
The only pause was when the mother lowered her voice slightly to say "You see that little boy? He's sitting nicely and eating, why can't you do that?" Blimey. LittleBear held up as a shining example of good behaviour! I am treasuring this moment.
Maybe the Sloanes were ground down by too many sleepless nights, too many bigger battles to fight than these ones, too many tantrums, too many knocked over glasses. I don't know. But now is my opportunity to get all judgemental about parenting skills...
If you're going to say "no" to your child, you really ought to mean it. And follow through. Or, if you really don't give a damn whether your child runs rampant around a restaurant, don't make a half-hearted effort to pretend that you do. Don't sit there gazing into your iphone saying "no dear, come back" and then doing absolutely sod all about whatever it is your child is doing. And if your children are bored, try talking to them, or playing with them, or taking them off exploring somewhere until the food comes. I've had meals out with LittleBear where the entire episode is an exercise in tantrum-aversion and distraction. No, it's not fun, it's not a relaxing meal out, it's not like life before children, but you manage because it's the only opportunity to get some food inside all of you, and yes you'd all rather be at home at that moment, but you're here now, and under the circumstances it's always nice to try not to ruin too many other people's days.
Bella and Georgie and their ineffectual parents didn't actually ruin anybody's day I don't think, and certainly not mine. But they irritated me anyway, or the parents did. They irritated me, because they're the ones giving the rest of us a bad name. They're the ones that lead to the kind of comment thread on this Guardian article, in which it turns out that huge swathes of the (Guardian-reading-and-commenting) population seem to think that all children in all pubs are monsters and should be outlawed. They provide ammunition for those who think all parents are selfish, inconsiderate "breeders" who infest the world with noise-making dinner-ruiners.
And, let's be honest, it's hard to defend yourself in the face of those accusations, because anyone who says "my child is beautifully behaved and has never spoilt anyone's day by being obnoxious" is clearly utterly, pathetically deluded. But at least some of us try to make sure our noise-making dinner-ruiners are kept below a certain decibel level and ideally occupied with something when within range of someone else's dinner.
But I know that my smugness at not being one of those parents is only transient. It won't be long before LittleBear does something that makes me wish the world would open up and swallow me (again). Or I lose track of him for a moment and find he's explaining to some unsuspecting diner about the K/T extinction, or crawling under someone's wheelchair, or asking a man why his nose is so red, or trying to find out how to get all the pepper out of the grinder, or.... you know what? Maybe we'll just eat at home from now on...